In Order to Grow—Pruning Off a Major Branch
Anti-Anxiety Tool of the Week: News Fasting
Our journalists are doing a yeoman's job of keeping us informed, warning us, warming our hearts, and sometimes tickling our funny bones--and I commend them for it. And while the rest of us want and need information now more than ever, a constant diet of news, and therefore stress, is not a good idea for the immune system. Or the heart. Or the brain.
So here's a proposal: try going for a day, or a half-day--or even two hours if you are a real addict--without reading or watching or listening to anything related to the coronavirus or any other bad or difficult news. There is even an open-source Chrome extension, No News Snooze, designed to "keep news from ruining your day." (It will warn you when you've been on one or more news sites for 15 minutes.)
Give your nervous system a chance to calm down and recoup. It will thank you, it will bless you--it might even kiss your feet.
In Order to Grow—Pruning Off a Major Branch
"It looks like we just gave ZZ Top a shave and a crewcut!"said Celia.
We looked around the big muscadine grape vineyard, at all the vines we had (finally) finished pruning, and at the huge and tangled heaps of branches we had pruned off. And laughed. It was so true.
There were six of us--most of us just out of college or taking a year off, doing a five month volunteer stint at Koinonia Farm (pronounced koy-no-nee-uh) in southern Georgia, an intentional Christian community that seeks to "demonstrate the way of Jesus as an alternative to materialism, militarism and racism."
When we arrived for our volunteer session in early January they assigned us to prune--because that's what needed to be done, even though when we started, most of us couldn't tell a cane from a bud spur from an arm. But one of the farmers showed us the ropes, then set us free in the vineyard to see what we could do. He stayed quietly in the background pruning his own vines, until we hollered for a second opinion on what to cut. Which we did quite frequently at first.
These were big, thirty year-old, eight-armed vines, arranged around central trunks four to five inch in diameter, like the spokes of a wheel, parallel to the ground. Each branch or "cane" could grow up to eight feet or more in a season, putting out numerous sub-branches three or four or five feet long.
Our job was, first, to determine which was the oldest of the eight arms. That was usually pretty easy since it was generally the largest one, right next to the smallest. That's because each year, the oldest arm was sawed off in its entirety, replaced with one of those very narrow eight foot canes that had grown the previous year. Since there could easily be 15 - 20 canes and sub-canes per one eight year-old arm, when we finished the saw cut and it all came off at once, it was certainly a "Wow!" experience. Kind of scary for a novice pruner.
Then we had to prune all the other canes back to about three inches, usually just above the first bud. And remove some of the bud spurs, and their canes, on the older arms. That's because grapes only grow on canes that sprout from the previous years growth. And also because if there are too many buds, the plant will lack the energy and nutrients it needs to fully ripen all the grapes that try to grow.
The ZZ Top analogy was funny--and apt. But when we started to think about the symbolism of pruning in our lives, it made us gulp. We sure had taken off a LOT. We talked about what that might mean for us as we worked out there in the vineyard, under the pale winter sun. In order to grow, sometimes you need to be pruned. And we saw that might mean some big losses sometimes.
I've been thinking about grapevines and pruning a lot this past week. That's because, at the end of November, I gave 30 days notice for the office I rent for my healing arts practice. I've been in business, and renting there, for over five years. I love offering hands-on gentle support to my clients. I love the peaceful and beautiful space I've created there. I love my suite-mate. So it feels like a major loss. Like taking off one of those eight year-old arms. That's part of why I wandered into those countries of Imnogood and Imaloser last week.
It is, as you've probably figured, a COVID-related decision. It has not felt safe to do hands-on work with clients and so, of course, my income from the already rather small practice has gone down to almost nothing. Early on, I hoped I could outlast the pandemic, but it's been too much of a financial drain and it is time to let go.
It's nowhere near the kind of loss that thousands--no, likely millions--of Americans have experienced this year. I have my health, enough money to live on, my friends and my family. And I may be able to restart the practice once the pandemic is under control. Still, it's a big loss for me.
But sometimes you have to let the old growth be pruned away, in order for new growth to happen. That's why farmers go through such a labor-intensive and careful process with grapevines and fruit trees.
Pruning can be painful. Pruned vines can "bleed" or "weep." But as one Georgia grape farmer said, "Don’t be alarmed if the vines 'bleed' at pruning cuts. Bleeding does not harm the vines."
So if you are experiencing loss, go ahead and feel the sadness. Go ahead and weep. It will not harm you. And then allow the cuts to begin to heal. It can be pretty tough to wait while we are so bare. But the circle will come around to spring again.
For those of us who have experienced pruning this year--of our health, our jobs, our friends or family, our sense of security, human touch--may we hold on to the hope of green. It will come back. It always does, in some form or another.
Until next time,
Grapes: Georgia Encyclopedia
No News sign: No News Snooze
Unpruned grapevine: Unknown
Pruned grapevine: Unknown
Holding hearts: Melissa Askew, unSplash